Although only four of the Boys came from Prague, the great majority of them passed through the Czech capital city on their way to the UK. It played a central role in the story of the Boys, as it was the city of departure to the UK for three out of the four groups of survivors.
The first group of the Boys were flown to England from Prague in August 1945. The third and fourth groups of the Boys also travelled to England from Prague, in February/March and June 1946 respectively.
Click on the groups to read more about the role of Prague in the Boys’ journey to Britain.
Part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1918, Prague then became the capital of Czechoslovakia until 1993, when the country split in two and was divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Prague is home to one of Europe’s longest-standing Jewish communities. Jews have lived in Prague and the surrounding region since the 10th century. A Jewish community was officially established there in the 11th century and has thrived for hundreds of years, despite multiple pogroms and expulsions, up until the Second World War.
In the early 18th century, the Jews made up a quarter of Prague's population. More Jewish people lived in Prague than anywhere else in the world.
At the outbreak of World War II, over 92,000 Jews lived in Prague, almost 20 percent of the city’s population. Thousands of Jews had fled to the city from Germany, greatly increasing the size of the community.
In March 1939, the German army invaded the region and established the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in the western regions of Czechoslovakia.
Between October 1941 and March 1945, about 46,000 Jews were deported from Prague mostly to Theresienstadt – a ghetto about 60 kilometres from Prague. From there, most of the Czech Jews were transported to their death in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp.
Almost 50 of the Boys spent a number of years in the Theresienstadt ghetto, but the majority of them were teenagers who had been forcibly taken there in the closing weeks of the war in the spring of 1945, arriving on death marches on foot or by train.
At least two-thirds of the Jewish population of Prague perished in the Holocaust.
After the war, around 5,000 Jews returned to Prague from the camps. As well as this, over 200 had managed to evade deportation and had been living in hiding underground.
On May 9, 1945, the Soviet Red Army entered Prague and liberated it from the Germans.
After being liberated from Theresienstadt, some of the Boys passed through a Jewish orphanage on Belgicka Street in Prague. It is now a Jewish school.
From 1948 to 1949, the Soviet Block supported Israel, enabling the emigration of Czech Jews to the newly formed state. However, after 1949, Jewish life was stifled by the Communist regime and emigration became virtually impossible. Stalin encouraged Czech leaders to stamp out religious and cultural activity, including Judaism. The regime demolished around 90 synagogues and dozens of Jewish cemeteries were shut down. Many Jews felt there was no future for them under Stalinism and escaped to the West.
From the late 1960s to the late 1980s, any mention of the Holocaust Prague’s Jewish history was stifled. It was not until the mid-1980s, as Communist attitudes began to reform throughout Europe, that there was a surge in interest in Prague’s Jewish legacy.
Vaclar Havel, the last president of former Czechoslovakia and the first president of the newly-established Czech Republic, was sympathetic towards the Jews and was quick to establish a diplomatic relationship with Israel and initiate the restitution of Jewish property in Prague.
Since then, there has been a revival of Jewish legacy and Jewish life in Prague. In 1992, the Pinkas Synagogue was reopened, followed by the restoration of the Maisel Synagogue in 1995 and the Spanish Synagogue in 1998, both part of the Jewish Museum. In 1996, an educational and cultural centre was established.
During the Communist era, many Jews learned to hide their identity. Now, Prague’s Jewish community has seen a rise in young Czechs who have only recently discovered their religious heritage. Because of this, however, it is difficult to calculate the exact number of Jews living in the city, with estimates from 1,500 to 5,000, with an additional 10,000 to 15,000 unregistered Jews across the country.
Prague is now home to many Jewish tourist sites and supports a considerable Jewish tourism industry, spanning multiple historical synagogues, museums and an old Jewish cemetery dating from the 15th century. The city is also home to a Jewish nursery, schools and old age home, as well as kosher restaurants and a kosher hotel.